12th till 18th of May 2019.
When we left two years ago we never did a bike trip with camping, our camping experience was limited to some guided trekking in Irian Jaja and a once and never again camping trip in France. Our longest bike trip was 3 weeks on the bike, never longer than 1,000 km and with the luxury of hotels in Europe. We did not know what to expect and how long-term travel would be different from a holiday. The main difference is that I save my strength more as I know there is always more is to come.
Now being 82 weeks on the road we still can be surprised how many differences you can discover in a day. People, nature, food, culture can be different from one valley to the next. If you start to think back on how Canada was, the road we took to get here and all the people we met, new things we tried, difficulties we conquered; it is overwhelming. But more overpowering is thinking ahead and what we still want to cover in 7 months. Combination of the very slow progress we currently make and the mountains we still have to cross starts to freak me out.
So back to our plan and take it day by day, live in the moment, enjoy and see how we still can make it on time. Poco a poco and we will get there.
I would have loved to have stayed longer in Pomabamba as it is the embroidery city of the North. Remember the skirts the girls were wearing yesterday at the church? Some machine made flowers, others by hand. But as there is no WiFi and we need to make some progress we decide to start riding early in the morning. I had drawn the way out of the city on MapOut but it did not show we had to walk a very very steep downhill over some stairs.
Got to move.
If we would have had more time (or allow ourselves more time) I would definitively have visited the Thermal Baths just outside town, but would you skip some of the roads or attractions by taking a long distance transport, to be able to stay longer in one spot? Or do you just go with the flow, as you cannot see everything anyway and only arrange transport if conditions really require it and only for a short distance? This is the current discussion we are having, but we do always make time to help a cyclist in need of a helping hand.
For today the decision was made to follow the bikepacking-route-Cordillera Blanca, following R23 and not AN105. Frank talked with a local biker yesterday and he recommended also R23 as AN105 is also a dirt road but with more traffic.
Did we regret? I did at one moment when we had a steep climb out of a valley. but after all it also made me stronger, believing in myself. I just need to take it slow and don’t start to bike push too quickly. Luckily there were only one or two small stretches where we had to push, the rest we could nicely bike. So so happy that we have changed the gears to 46/22 on our Rohloff as we can now bike much much better up-hill. Maybe also due to the change from 29 to 27,5 wheels.
Do you see where we came from?
Do you see Frank below?
We got caught in a traffic jam.
Enjoying the view, but which one?
Just before Llumpa Frank is stopped by a transport van and the driver explains that he has seen us several times today and offers us grapes for the last few kilometers. So sweet.
Arriving in LLumpa we take the first Alojamiento that has two beds. And shared facilities. It is cold as we are at 2,900 m but we still take a cold shower! No fun to carry all bags down at the back of the house and up again to the guest stay, but here we see again the benefit of our classic pannier set-up. If we would have a bikepacking set-up it would take way more time to disassemble everything, as the bikes cannot be taken close to the room. And we have not seen any suitable camping spots, way to steep around here. Trying to find a place to eat we end-up in a earthen walled house, which still offers a small piece of chicken and rice. And bread with eggs for breakfast.
You feel that here is no influence of tourists. Just normal village life, trading fruit and vegetables grown on the steep hills surrounding the village.
Today is really nicely rambling downhill. At the riverbed we need to decide if we take the road to Yanama, which is the bikepacking route and gravel or take the Inca-Divide_race route which is the road to San Luis and cross the Cordillera Blanca using the paved AN107 starting after San Luis. As we are both tired of gravel, we decide to aim for San Luis. We try to get some distraction by practicing our pig whispering skills.
And after a beautiful morning a wet, very wet and for me long up-hill afternoon on a bad gravel road brings us finally to San Luis.
The difference between Llumpa and San Louis couldn’t be bigger, even if only 30 km apart you feel and see that San Louis thinks more of itself than the surrounding villages. But the place to sleep is not better than the day before (OK a bit better because we have a private bathroom with warm water!) and the food is worse. It was definitively not worth the detour but hills are so steep and it still rains cats and dogs, so shelter is appreciated.
What a bliss the next day! How happy a person can be when our wheels hit asphalt! We feel we have been biking for several days and are happy to arrive in Chacas. And again and again and again there is rain!
But we can’t complain as we take the best hotel in town. Built only 2 years ago with great beds but poor WiFi. Still we decide to take our rest day tomorrow as we need to work on the blog and make it ready to be posted in the weekend! Must say that entering this village it seems to hold a totally different vibe. Nicely restored square, beautiful church and the new hotel. With marvelous wood carvings. What is happening here?
Did you know that you need to eat as much as you can when biking. Frank already lost again all the fat he gained during our winter-stop, so when we find nice cake we will eat it!
Next day is mainly used for working at the blog and we are happy to meet Erin from the USA who has been living here for a year and will stay minimal one more year as volunteer for the peace-corps. After a great lunch we understand a bit better how the politics in the village work and sombrero off for the economical change Erin is trying to establish here.
Why is Chacas so different from the surrounding villages?
Chacas was founded in the 1570s, but it is known that the territory now covered by the province to which it belongs, are the most remote evidence of human presence in the Eastern Sierra Ancash, represented by the findings of caves and rock shelters prior to the Chavin culture.
Most change has taken place here because Chacas is the hub for the Operacion Mato Grosso, helping the very poor in Peru with a craftsman education. But not only they have an influence here due to the school, but also the Italians still living here linked to Italian Father Ugo de Censi still try to improve things here.
Together we head to the workplace to see the project of reconstructing the altar of the church of Cusco which was destroyed in a fire. 2 years of work, now half way. Depending on the moment 30 people are working on this, each with their specific skills. In complete silence as no music or loud talking is allowed. Work is their honor to the lord. All the carvings are made of Cedar wood and once finished, will be covered in gold.
What an amazing work. Craftsmanship meets art.
Not only work on the altar is performed here. Also other work for other churches around Europe and USA is created here. How must it have been here 30 years ago to start in this very remote area with only gravel road access, which has to pass over a 4,800 m mountain? Why here? Mind blowing!
So happy we stayed an extra day.
To see how vision, dedication and persistence can change a full community. Thank you Erin for this beautiful present.
We now understand a bit more of this amazing village and all the work you and other volunteers are doing!
Snow caped mountains were watching over us during the night and are now inviting us for the ride of today. The road with dozens of switch backs makes us slowly climb from 3,300 to 4,700 meter. We know that there is a refuge just before the crest and decide to try to sleep there.
Cabin in the sky.
Only 26 km but from 8:00 to 17:00, a good climb and still reasonably fit we push the last 250 m to the refuge.
Hidden at one of the glacier lakes with an amazing view of the road. We have 4 walls and a roof but no glass in the windows. As we have a roof I insist sleeping with only the inner-tent allowing a great view of the reflection of the moon on the snow covered mountains.
You feel the cold of the stones creeping through the sleeping mattresses. I start with as many layers as possible and during the night remove some of them when I am getting too warm. Frank starts with only a few extra and does not get warm at all. What does not help either is that his mattress is leaking air, very slowly but needs to be refilled at least twice. He has a very shitty night including some problems with the altitude. Morning is bright blue and we don’t need an alarm to get us going. Amazing spot and highly recommended to at least visit.
A few kilometers bring us to the entrance of the tunnel. At least not 3 km long as one of the locals said but still 1.384 m. Extra lights get installed.
We don’t check if we can bike to the summit to pass the tunnel, as quite some landslides happened and there is nobody to check the conditions with. At the iOverlander app it is indicated the road is closed, so tunnel it is. (Afterwards we hear it is doable by bike). With our headlights as additional warning lights we pass cover the 1,3 km long tunnel as fast as we can. From this side 5% gradient ascend so at this altitude speeding is relative, but we made it through without any traffic.
And then the amazing long decent Carhuaz, passing a beautiful valley, enjoying the sun, purple lupines and grazing cows. Are we in Switzerland? Finally we cross the border of the park and pay the entrance/exit fee. Totally worth it. Wondering what they do with the money.
From -2 degrees to 30 degrees in a morning. From ice covered peaks and bright emerald glacier lakes to hot baking streets in Carhuaz makes us strip the warm layers which were definitively needed with the headwind going down. After a great lunch of fish soup and rice chicken we decide to continue to Huaraz as it will be more downhill. Covering car tires is something no longer allowed in Europe but still commonly done in Peru.
More flat than really downhill makes us arrive in Huaraz at 17:00. For the first time in ages we covered +85km. At least we can still cover longer distances.
The place we were thinking to stay was charging way too much. As today the monthly pre-payment of the Bitel Sim card expired, we first need to hunt for a top-up so we can search for a good hostal alternative on-line. Top-up can only happen in a real Binley store as we want again a month pre-payment. It is dark by the time we finally can start looking for a place. As kitchen and a private room are key we end-up in Akilpo Hostal. For the first time in 2 months we see several westerners. All focused on their phone. We are too tired to continue to look and are happy to have found a clean place with kitchen. This is really a hostel as we have not yet seen it in Peru. Dorms, lockers, kitchen, private rooms and 90% non-Peruvians. We enjoy a different dinner at the newly opened Korean restaurant. What a shock to the system after all the quiet villages and remote areas. No fun to see our chanchos like this when shopping on the local market for some food.
Doctor my eyes.
Going to the ophthalmologist is the main reason to have entered the city and to have a day without biking. I still feel something in my eye and as you only have two eyes and can always bike we decided to no longer postpone. We find an ophthalmologist on Saturday and he does find an eyelash in my eye but after the narcotic has worn off I feel there is still something there. Maybe first try a week with the eye-drops he has subscribed.
This town is not our town. I shopped for groceries at the market, busy, smelly and sooo much meat and the rest of the town does also not appeal to us, it is mainly the hub to discover the nearby parks.
At least we can cook our own meal with a lot of vegetables. No contact in the hostel, are we too old for all of them or does everybody live in his own bubble? Twenty five years ago backpackers talked to each other on where to go and what to see, now they just look on their phones.
Are we too old for this trip? Find out the hurdles in next weeks blog.
No cat but a dog this time.